Macho Again always a handful

When it comes to bringing a horse to a big race, trainer Dallas Stewart knows to expect a certain amount of stress in the weeks leading up.

But when it comes to conditioning his charge Macho Again, Stewart has learned to brace himself for tension levels that may be higher than normal.

Last Friday, Macho Again gave his connections a bit of a scare when he developed a gassy stomach in reaction to his Lasix shot.

After that bout of worry passed, the son of Macho Uno got loose on the backstretch of Saratoga while being unsaddled after a brief trip around the training track.

”He's a little bit of a handful,“ Stewart deadpanned during a national teleconference Tuesday. ”He's got a little brush over his right eye that was very superficial but you know, thank God nobody hurt.“

Thankfully for his connections, Macho Again's attitude changes for the better once he gets on the racetrack — a fact they hope will produce some good drama for them this Saturday.

The angst Macho Again caused Stewart last week will all be forgiven should the gray colt use his still-maturing talent to take down his 11 rivals in the Grade I, $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday.

Macho Again drew post five in the field of 12 on Wednesday and was installed as the 6-1 fourth choice in the morning line. Pyro was made the 7-to-2 favorite.

Macho Again's win in the Derby Trial and second-place effort behind Big Brown in the Preakness Stakes put him on the radar, but it was his gritty triumph over Pyro in last month's Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes that further shook up an increasingly wide-open division.

After Belmont Stakes winner Da' Tara fell victim to a torrid speed duel, Macho Again used his determined kick to split foes in the midstretch and hold off the late-running Pyro for a half-length victory and his first win around two turns.

”He's the kind of horse you really don't want to get in a street fight with because he's going to come back at you,“ said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns Macho Again. ”I'm not sure he's the most talented horse in the land but I know when you put everything together, I know he's the total package.“

More refined than robust in build, Macho Again has demonstrated a quiet consistency in his career, finishing off the board just four times in 11 career starts.

His only clunkers, a pair of seventh-place finishes at Keeneland last October and Turfway Park this winter, both came over synthetic tracks — a fact that may keep him from a start in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park this October and, thus, put even more importance on a Travers win.

”We haven't really discussed it much to be honest,“ Stewart said of a possible Breeders' Cup start.

While he has yet to win beyond 11⁄8 miles, Stewart feels Macho Again's improving form combined with some expected pace on the front end Saturday could help him successfully stretch out to the Travers' classic distance.

”It's a mile-and-a-quarter so I'm sure (a favorable pace) will develop,“ Stewart said. ”I'm sure it will be a good racehorse time and hopefully we'll be able to have some good racing luck and be able to be strong in the last part.“

Although much has been made of the supposed lack of strength in the current crop of 3-year-olds outside of Big Brown, Finley thinks the divide will narrow as more horses — his included — figure out the game.

”I strongly believe we're starting to close the gap on Big Brown and I think it'll be a very interesting fall if everything falls into place,“ Finley said. ”I'd like to think this group of 3-year-olds, aside from Big Brown, a couple of theses horses are starting to improve and put their games together. And I think we're one of those horses.“